Online courses at ESR are conducted through the Moodle course management software. Moodle™ is an open-source program that offers all the main components of popular programs like Blackboard™ and WebCT™. The primary method of course delivery is asynchronous, meaning that students will not need to be available at a certain time on particular days. There will be opportunities in the future for synchronous learning through audio/video chat software. Computer system requirements for participation in ESR Access are not demanding. You will need a fairly recent computer system with internet access (the more reliable and faster the better), a web browser, and office productivity software.
Flow of an Online Course
The flow of the course during a semester will generally follow this pattern: initial period to get to know the instructor and other participants including posting a picture and background information in your profile; weekly reading and writing assignments; cumulative projects such as a final written paper. Most weeks follow a typical pattern of reading assigned pages from text books, reading the instructor's posted lectures, and engaging in the threaded discussion forums. Students are expected to read all of the postings by the instructor and students, to post succinct but substantive contributions to the discussion, and to be in dialogue with other postings. The instructor is able to view a complete log of all the activity of a student in the Moodle course site and evaluate whether a student has participated in the class discussion. Both quality and quantity are attributes of the student's involvement in the course.
Anatomy of an Online Course
Course sites will provide general information for the course (syllabus, class etiquette, forms, schedule) at the top of the page. Forums are set up to support the student's learning and sense of community (technical support, general questions, joys and concerns). The course page lists the weeks of the class, sometimes in reverse chronology so the current week is at the top. In some cases only the current week and the completed weeks are available so that students stay together through the course. In each weekly class period, students will have their reading assignments, discussion forums, supplementary documents, and frequently a writing assignment to submit online. Many other features are available (journal, chat, survey, wiki)and may be part of the course work.
Just as a telephone is only the technological medium through which humans communicate, so is the computer only the means by which students and instructors form a community of learning — in Quaker terms, a meeting for worship with the purpose of learning. Some of the guidelines for being a good online learner are the same for any student taking a class. Here are some tips for making the most of your experience in ESR Access.
- Take ownership of your education. For many ESR Access students, learning from a distance has been a means of fulfilling a lifetime goal. To make it worth the time and expense, you need to be an active learner, someone who is motivated, disciplined, and able to work independently.
- Make the time. Not only do you need to have the time during the week for reading assigned texts, you also need to make time for interaction in the discussion forums online. Resist the impulse to get online, print pages, and then get offline to read later. Think of your course site as a virtual classroom where you are engaging with the instructor and other students in dialogue.
- Become a good online writer. Writing in the online medium needs to be concise and well-organized. The advantage of the threaded discussion format is the time the person can take to think, organize, and construct a good response to a posting. Some postings may be short, but should not be simply the equivalent of the Quaker expression, "that Friend speaks my mind." Not only state your agreement or disagreement, give your reasons. You need not always write in a formal, academic style, but you should also refrain from an internet chat style or a form of writing that simply comes off the top of your head. People will want to see your personality in your writing, but they will also appreciate well-constructed sentences and paragraphs, properly-spelled words, and appropriate punctuation.
- Engage frequently rather than go online for longer periods less often. It does not work to think of distance education as a week-end event. You need to be present in the "classroom" on an almost daily basis. Keep up with the conversation and reply to the postings often. A poor online dialogue is evident when the discussion thread only contains the initial posting and then several responses to the initial posting. The characteristic of an active dialogue is the multiple levels of people responding to others' responses.
- Stay in touch. If you are ill or have some reason for being away from the online class for an extended period of time, make sure your instructor knows what's happening. If you aren't able to get online for some reason, call your instructor. Learn the phone number: 800-4321ESR.
- Engage your whole self in the class. Please find a way to add your picture to your profile in Moodle. Make sure it's a close-up of your face so people connect you with your online activity. Get to know the other participants, let them get to know you. Don't simply lurk in the online classroom, but be engaged. Communicate with your instructor, make use of the general discussion forums to be part of the community of learners at ESR.
- Stay with the class. Be ready to go when the online class begins. Be present throughout the week. Don't fall behind, but also don't try to work ahead too much. Prepare ahead for the mid-semester crunch, when suddenly it all seems to be too much. Hang in there and press ahead. Finish well.
- Become accustomed to distance-learning pedagogy. The mantra of distance-learning is the instructor is not to be "the sage on the stage but the guide on the side." You will be learning from the other participants, other participants will be learning from you. Along with that, however, are two caveats. The professors are still the ones teaching the classes and have some very important things to say on their subject and will guide the course as they see fit. You are not that person and should not try to dominate or manipulate the class. Respectful dialogue and appropriate behavior is expected of all students — and professors.
Most online learners who invest themselves in their education find the experience immensely rewarding. The people in their classes become their friends and spiritual companions. The online class becomes an integral part of their lives.
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